Australia PM Albanese Touts ‘Strong Relationship’ in Xi Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has met with President Xi Jinping in China, becoming the first Australian leader to do so in more than seven years and sealing a recovery in diplomatic relations between the nations.

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The official Xinhua News Agency reported their meeting in Beijing on Monday. Albanese arrived in the Chinese capital Sunday after starting his historic visit in Shanghai, where he attended the China International Import Expo and delivered a speech in which he praised the “mature relationship” between the two countries.

“Australia, along with other countries in the region, has an interest in continued stable growth in the Chinese economy, and its ongoing engagement with the world,” Albanese told Xi, according to a readout from Australia. “A strong relationship between our two countries will be beneficial into the future. Where differences arise, it’s important that we have communication. From communication comes understanding.”

Xi told the Australian prime minister that “with joint efforts of both sides, we’ve been resuming our exchanges in various views and worked out some problems.”

“Now, the China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development — I’m heartened to see that,” Xi said.

A day earlier in Shanghai, Albanese pledged to keep working with China. “It is in all of our interests to have a relationship where there is dialog,” he told an audience which included Chinese Premier Li Qiang.

The import expo has special significance for Albanese, as Australia is still waiting for trade restrictions to be lifted on a number of agricultural products, including wine, beef and rock lobsters. Beijing imposed punitive trade actions at a low point in relations in 2020, after then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19, infuriating the Communist Party leadership.

Albanese told reporters on Sunday that he wanted to see all the remaining curbs removed, to allow trade to flow normally again. “We want to see China be able to benefit from receiving that and we want to see Australian businesses benefit as well,” he said.

Prior to traveling to China, Albanese visited Washington, where President Joe Biden warned the Australian leader to “trust, but verify” anything Beijing told him during the trip.

Monday’s talks were the second meeting between Albanese and Xi, after they sat down on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meetings in Indonesia in November 2022. The Australian leader is in China until Nov 7, after which he will fly to the Cook Islands for the Pacific Islands Forum.

Relations between Australia and China have improved since the election of Albanese’s center-left Labor government in May 2022. High-level ministerial meetings restarted and restrictions on imports of Australian coal, timber and barley have been lifted.

In the run-up to the prime minister’s visit, China released Australian journalist Cheng Lei who had been detained for more than three years. However another Australian, writer Yang Hengjun, is still in detention after being taken into custody in 2019. His family has asked Albanese to fight for his release amid concerns around his health.

--With assistance from Michael Heath, James Mayger, Jill Disis and Jasmine Ng.

(Updates with comments from Albanese, Xi.)

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